Published: Published Date – 08:56 PM, Wed – 21 September 22
Hyderabad: Governor versus government is becoming an increasingly common anomaly across States, with incidents of governors appointed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre in confrontation with governments, especially in non-BJP ruled States, on the rise.
The latest has been the face-off between Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan and the State’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan. The tussle, still on the boil, earlier saw Khan refusing to sign two out of 11 bills passed by the State Assembly, alleging that one of them, the University Laws (Amendment) Bill, sought to curtail his power as Chancellor of Universities.
The standoff, which saw perhaps for the first time a Governor leveling personal allegations against the Chief Minister, citing the appointment of a relative of the CM’s personal secretary to the Kannur University, further escalated when Khan broke all convention and held a press conference, firing off charge after charge against the Left Democratic Front government, even casting serious aspersions on the Front saying the ‘ideology driving the LDF originated outside India’. Khan, who earlier called the Kannur varsity vice-chancellor a criminal, also levelled allegations against the former VC, eminent historian Irfan Habib, calling him a ‘goon’.
The ruling CPI (M) and its allies have responded, with the CPI’s party organ, New Age, while stating in an editorial that governors in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Punjab were acting as ‘political stewards of the BJP’ violating the basic doctrines of democracy, also saying it was shameful to see governors, who were supposed to perform the task irrespective of political considerations, now competing with each other to be in the ‘good books of the Sangh Parivar’.
Current Vice-President of India, Jagdeep Dhankhar, while he was West Bengal Governor, had crossed swords with Mamta Banerjee’s government alleging that the Raj Bhavan was ‘under surveillance’.
The disturbing trend, of which there were few instances in pre-BJP India, like the stand-off between Congress-appointed Kumudben Manishankar Joshi and the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government led by NT Rama Rao, became widespread with a rise in the number of Raj Bhavans occupied by BJP-
appointed politicians, a departure from the convention of appointing former defence or police personnel and bureaucrats. By 2018, just four years after the Narendra Modi-led government assumed power, there were only three Raj Bhavans that had non-BJP appointed governors or governors without a saffron hue.
These included ESL Narasimhan in Telangana and AP, P Sathasivam in Kerala, not appointed by the BJP, and Brigadier (Retd) BD Mishra in Arunachal Pradesh, whose Army background apparently made him a strong contender for the State, which shares borders with China.
While Mishra is still in office in the BJP-governed Arunachal, Sathasivam’s retirement saw Khan in Kerala, and in Telangana, Narasimhan making way for Tamilisai Soundararajan, who prior to her appointment was the BJP’s Tamil Nadu State president.
Before Khan, in recent times it was Soundararajan’s repeated confrontations with the State government, many of them politically motivated and targeting the ruling TRS, that hit headlines. Her continuing remarks against the State government have drawn widespread criticism, especially with the State already facing discrimination from the Centre in various aspects.
Governors acting as agents of the Centre, in confrontation with Chief Ministers, getting into controversy while selecting CMs (remember Goa), meddling in day-to-day administration, delaying or refusing assent to bills passed in Assemblies, commenting adversely on policies of the State government and as Chancellor of state universities, are all becoming an everyday sight with the BJP in power.
There have been several earlier attempts to strengthen Centre-State relations, like through recommendations from the Administrative Reforms Commission of 1968, the PV Rajamannar Committee of 1969, the Committee of Governors in 1971 and also the Sarkaria Commission in 1988.
Most of the commissions/committees, pointed at one common aspect – the Governor as an agent of the Centre, attempting to run down the State government, would lead to the collapse of federalism and destroy India’s democracy.